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Program builds better backs

November 16, 1996

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Building Better Bones, a new osteoporosis diagnostic and treatment program that emphasizes prevention by testing and encouraging younger women to change their lifestyles, was unveiled last week by City Hospital in Martinsburg.

More than 25 million Americans, four out of five of whom are women, suffer from the bone-weakening disease, according to City Hospital officials. While the new program focuses on women, men can also take part, they said.

The disease causes bones, especially in the spine, wrists and hips, to become brittle. It can result in broken hips, especially among elderly women, and serious curvature of the spine. Some bone loss is normal with age. Osteoporosis occurs when bone loss becomes severe.

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The building better bones program begins Nov. 25 at the Medical Arts Building behind City Hospital, said Helen Johnstone, program manager. Deborah Kackley, RN, is the clinical coordinator and Rudolph Lemperg, MD, is the medical adviser.

Similar programs already exist in Washington County and in Winchester, Va., Lemperg said. The difference in Martinsburg will be the special emphasis on education, wellness and research, Lemperg said.

He said the program will be open to about 200 patients whose progress will be tracked as part of the research effort.

An assessment of each patient will determine risk factors. If further diagnosis is needed a special X-ray machine will test bone density, Johnstone said.

Younger women who do not have the disease will be given high impact exercises to do that would be dangerous for a person with osteoporosis, Lemperg said. Diet, nutrition and medication are key treatment factors, Johnstone said.

Physicians will refer patients to the building better bones program, she said. "Patients will be guided for a year of lifestyle changes by a certified orthopedic nurse specialist and other health care professionals," Johnstone said.

"It's important that the program be started early," Lemperg said. "The secret is in prevention."

He said women in West Virginia are among the highest risk group for osteoporosis in the country because it's the state with the highest number of women who smoke. Smoking and drinking increase the risk of getting the disease, Johnstone said.

Women who are post-menopausal, thin, light skinned, blue-eyed who have had hysterectomies or have otherwise lost ovaries are also at high risk, Lemperg said.

According to statistics provided by the program, Osteoporosis causes 1.3 million bone fractures a year, including 500,000 vertebral fractures, 250,000 hip fractures and 240,000 wrist fractures.

A woman's lifetime risk of hip fracture is equal to the combined risk of developing breast, uterine and ovarian cancer.

About half of those who suffer a hip fracture never fully recover.

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